“There is going to be more and more demand for this and we’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” Ken Bork, an instructor at the Wisconsin Operating Engineers (WOE) Training Center in Coloma, Wisconsin, explains why the training center started offering the one-day course, “Intro to UAV (Drone) Operations,” in January of this year.
Flying drones and getting paid for it seems like a dream job for some. And, it is quickly becoming an in-demand skill for many occupations including several in the Transportation industry.
Drones, more properly referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), are used in a variety of tasks common within the Transportation sector including road mapping, terrain topology mapping, bridge and waterway inspection, power line planning and inspection, railway inspection, and job site progress photography and videography. They are especially valuable in situations where it would be dangerous or difficult for a person to access something. Bridge inspections and visualizing inside small spaces or very high places are common examples where drones are popular tools.
Adam Andrews, Owner and Director of Operations at Aeroworks Productions, LLC in Wisconsin, had an aviation background and 18 years in construction project management, which he used to transition into the commercial UAS space.
“It’s still an ever changing and growing industry but the signs of growth are very positive,” said Andrews.
Aeroworks Productions offers a range of imaging services utilizing cameras attached to UAS. These services include construction mapping, utility inspection, high-definition photography, high-resolution video, thermal imaging and 3D laser scanning. The company supports customers all over the United States, with a majority of their work being in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) space.
For operating engineers, Bork points out that drones are a tool that they can add to complement their current skills and advance their career opportunities. Currently, a grade foreman, for example, might fly a drone three or four hours per week.
“People that are excelling at it were already using GNSS rovers or machine control technology. Drones are just the next step. It’s not just for fun. It’s got to be for some kind of deliverable for a contractor. It’s the people with all that other knowledge; they are the people who are shining right now,” said Bork.
Regulations and requirements have changed several times over the last three years, but currently, someone wanting to work as a UAS pilot commercially is required to hold an FAA part 107 remote pilot license. Getting this license requires passing of an FAA written exam proctored at an FAA approved testing center.
According to Andrews, passing the test is not the only prerequisite to running a successful and, more importantly, safe UAS operation. Operating the many different types of aircraft, and ground stations as well as a good grasp of camera and sensor operation is very important.
“The UAS industry has a wide variety of opportunities for pretty much any profession. Besides pilots, there are many opportunities in software development, data processing, sensor development, aircraft design, battery technology, app development, and more,” said Andrews.
Today, a search on job search service, Indeed, for the key words “drone pilot” returns over 300 jobs nationwide, 26 of which were posted in the last month. These job listings all listed an FAA Part 107 drone pilot license as either a requirement or a preferred qualification.
To launch a career as a drone pilot, Andrews recommends learning a construction trade, making sure your computer skills are up to par and getting proper training on the safe and legal operation of UAS.